Taliesin West – A Treasure In The Desert


As I was writing about the David and Gladys Wright house and its rescue from demolition, I couldn’t help but think of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, which is not far from where he built his son’s home.  Taliesin West is a jewel carved in to a mountain in the Scottsdale desert.  Frank Lloyd Wright purchased the land in 1937 for $3.50 an acre.  He used it as his winter retreat and school.  In his autobiography he described the location he found for his new home in this way, “Finally I learned of a site twenty-six miles from Phoenix, across the desert of the vast Paradise Valley. On up to a great mesa in the mountains. On the mesa just below McDowell Peak we stopped, turned, and looked around. The top of the world.”  While Taliesin West is not exactly at the top of the world, the views from the sprawling complex are beautiful.  I visited the museum on a Friday night, arriving before sunset so I could see what was described to me as nothing short of miraculous.  I was not disappointed.  The red and orange sky was intensified because there were no clouds to obscure the natural beauty of the colors on the surrounding mountains.  It’s much cooler in the desert at night compared to the 118F(47.8C) daytime temperature, which made it easier to walk around the property.  SInce it’s in the desert, Wright had to spend $10,000 to build a well deep enough to supply water for the home and school.  The Friday night tours include refreshments in the home which is used as a school for aspiring architects to this day.  It’s the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.  In summer there are no classes, so we were able to see where the students dorm during the academic year.  The home is unique and was extraordinarily difficult to build but it’s clear from the moment you see it, that it’s a Frank Lloyd Wright structure.  He, along with his apprentices would arrive at the property beginning in 1937 to begin construction of the home.  Every year he would leave Wisconsin right before winter and head off to Scottsdale  to work on it.  Wright was very concerned with blending the home in to the natural surroundings.  He didn’t want it to intrude on the natural beauty.  It’s almost camouflaged as you first see it from a distance.  The lines of the home are low and sweeping.  The walls as it was explained on the tour were made of local desert rocks.  One of the most important and impressive parts of Taliesin is the cabaret theatre. It’s built with six sides, out of the standard rock, concrete mixture, in an irregularly hexagonal shape, the theatre provides its occupants with what someone has called “95% acoustic perfection”. You can hear the slightest sound from the stage even when sitting in the back of the theater.  There’s a beautiful triangular-shaped pool on the grounds along with landscaped gardens.  But as I was standing outside after the tour and staring into the starry sky, I couldn’t help but be taken by the quietness, the isolation.  One can only imagine what it was like there seventy-five years ago before there were any streetlights in the distance.  But Wright loved the solitary environment that he created.  One with nature.  He died in 1959 at the age of ninety-one while living at Taliesin West.

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